Why Are German Shepherds Used As Police Dogs?

We have known the German Shepherd breed for a long time as working class breed. We find them working at farms, as guard dogs, police dogs, and much more.

But what makes the German Shepherds such good police dogs? And what makes this incredible intelligent breed great in so many fields? We thought it would be worthwhile to take a deeper dive into what it is that makes this breed such an excellent police dog.

A Little Bit Of German Shepherd History

The German Shepherd’s short history tells us they were mainly used by sheepherders working on farms and assist in herding sheep. It may not come as a surprise that the first in Germany registered GSD was a sheepherder. What makes him so great at his tasks was he needed not training. It was all instinct and some guidance in direction to become successful.

The German Shepherds are loyal, intelligent alert and courageous. They are approachable and show confidence. They stand their grounds. In normal situations, they are calm and relaxed but can be eager and very agile when circumstances ask for it.

They are known to be a breed that is always willing to serve its handler or family.

German Shepherd At a Glance:

Weight:Male: 75-95 lbs
Female: 75-95 lbs
Height at Withers:Male: 25 inch
Female: 23 inch
Features:Upright ears (naturally)
Exercise Requirements: >40 minutes/day
Energy Level: Average
Longevity Range: 10-12 yrs
A tendency to Drool: Low
A tendency to Snore:Low
A tendency to Bark:Low
A tendency to Dig: Low
Social/Attention Needs: Moderate

This Is What Makes The German Shepherds Good Police Dogs

This breed is intelligent, athletic, and versatile. German Shepherds can perform many different and challenging tasks for their handlers as well as stay focused for as long as it is necessary. They have good stamina and can perform their duties for long periods of time. Regarding term and permanent, these dogs are bred with nerves of steel and with the ability to stay calm in tense situations.

Police Dogs And Its History With German Shepherds

Police dogs are in some countries known as K9 or canine. They are dogs with specials skills. Trained to assist police officers in duties that include: searching for drugs, locate missing people, attack when ordered by a police officer, find evidence at a crime scene and finding explosives. The basic training includes learning and remembering several verbal commands and hand gestures.

The most often used breed to assist policemen is the German Shepherd, but you may also see the retriever breeds often being used.

World War I brought The german shepherd out West, they were active in both world war 1 and 2

Lawlessness, due to rapid urbanization, was a growing concern for the public of London in the 19th century. The existing law enforcement at that time was too small and the problems too large to be dealt with. Commercial companies prosper well in combat against crime. Groups of night watchmen and security guards were formed and provided with firearms and dogs to protect themselves.

Europe was the first to start using the German Shepherd as a service dog on a large scale. The police of Paris used them to track down ravaging gangs and fight against them.

In 1899 the police department of Ghent, Belgium started a police dog service program. They were the first with a large organized program.

Their methods would spread over Europe very quickly. Later The Germans would be the first to start scientific experiments in breeding and training the German Shepherd. In 1920 the first dog police school was opened after agreeing that the German Shepherd would be the ideal police service dog.

Training Your German Shepherd For Maximum Effectiveness As A Police Dog

Training a German Shepherd as a police dog is a very detailed and complex process that starts with the police dog handler. The handler first needs to go through police academy training. When he finishes the trianing he needs one to two years experience as a patrol officer to gain experience in law enforcement, before he can apply for transfer to a canine unit. The handler needs to go through a long training process that makes him capable of handling a trained dog.

Having experience with dog training outside the academy is considered a pre. This can be any kind of obedience, crowd control or effective communication training with dogs.

Some believe that police dogs are deliberately trained in another language to mislead a suspect as he cannot understand the commands the office gives to the dog. This is a misbelieve as dogs in Europe are trained in their native language because they where taught commands in the native language during basic training school.

After completing the basic training it is easier to continue training new commands in the native language than to continue in another.

To complete the training the dog needs to pass an obedience training course. In this course, he will learn to follow commands without hesitation, with accuracy and impossible to be distracted by external sources. If he passes the course he will be considered a police officer and part of the police department.

German Shepherds are either trained to be “single-purpose” police dog or “dual-purpose” police dogs.

Single-purpose police dogs will be trained as personal protection dogs, tracking dog or for backup.

Dual-purpose police dogs receive a more general training that makes them more flexible for different tasks. Their training is tough as it will include everything that single-purpose dogs learn and than some. They will also be specialized in detecting narcotics or explosives. They cannot do both as they cannot communicate to the handler if they detected drugs, explosives or both. They will become a highly effective detection dog as they will be able to distinct for instance different kinds of drugs while avoid getting blinded by the smell of a steak that’s being cooked right next to them.

The police officer will have reasonable suspicion to search whatever the dog alerts on without a warrant.

List of specialty your german shepherd is trained in the force 

  • Apprehension and Attack dogs
  • Personal protection dogs
  • Attack dog training
  • Search and rescue
  • Tracking and trailing
  • Missing animal search
  • Detection dog
  • Human remains detection

Apprehension and Attack Dogs

This dog is trained to locate and subdue suspects or enemies.  

A  Personal Protection Dog

Attack dogs have a long history. A personal protection dog is a dog trained to defend or attack persons. Nowadays they often are employed in security roles to defend territory or properties from threats. They are trained to do this by command or on sight by pre-trained signs.

Attack Dog Training

Attack dogs are trained to chase, defend, hold, suppress and injure, or possibly kill a hostile target. This is where their training varies greatly from guard dogs. Guard dogs are instead are trained to bring attention to an intruder.

During the training of attack dogs, they get exposed to all kinds of distractions like gunfire and traffic to increase their effectiveness. 

The training is condemned by some people as they say it promotes wildness in the animals. According to an American fact-finding study in 1975, 10% of dogs that have bitten a person have received some form of attack dog training.

Patrol dogs are military dogs trained as attack dogs with an extra ability to find explosives.

Armies That Used Attack Dogs

The battle between Athenians and Corinthians is probably one of the most well-recorded ancient uses of attack dogs. Despite being unsuccessful to resist against an enemy attack, they were able to get the attention of sleeping soldiers to warn them.

The Romans used dogs as a weapon of war. They trained them to attack and for ferocity. During combat, the get equipped with a metal protective armor that is covered with sharp spikes. They were sent out in front of the soldiers to make their enemy lose battle formation.

Under Napoleon, dogs were trained to use their better senses. They were put to use in roles similar to today’s guard dogs.

Benjamin Franklin suggested the use of attack dogs in the U.S. Army. About 5000 war dogs served the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war.

South Africa, wolfdog hybrids were used by the African defense force to assist in combating guerillas during the apartheid regime.

Modern military groups primarily use attack dogs for watchdog purposes. These dogs are trained for defense and to attack possible intruders on command.

Claims of military dogs being used for psychological torture have never been proven.

Search And Rescue (SAR)

Search and Rescue dogs are trained in finding people or objects. They are very valuable in locating missing people after a natural disaster, wilderness tracking or mass casualty events.

Dedicated handlers that work in small teams on foot with Search and Rescue dogs have effective results. They are well trained in specific applications like natural disasters, avalanches or drownings.

They have optimum effect when they deploy in a high-probability area. Meaning places were chances are high that the dog will pick-up the scent of the subject, like a location where a suspect was located last.

Tracking and Trailing

The German Shepherd is a very agile breed. Mixed with a keen sense of smell he is probably the best breed capable of tracking and trailing through any type of terrain.

Tracking a subject can be in any type of terrain. A tracking dog must be able to maneuver successfully through it. 

A trailing dog works on leads. He needs to be made familiar with the scent he needs to trail and be deployed in an area where he can pick up trails of the scent. They have a very precise nose that can smell a scent from the air and tell apart from all other scents.

They do sometimes go off the trail that the subject took. This is not an error of the dog, but rather he is smelling a scent pool. They follow the lead and try to distinct the scent from all other scents to get to their target. 

As they can be deployed in any kind of terrain it’s difficult to predict where they might end up. Their handles must be capable of maneuvering through the terrain, but skills like bush navigation and survival tactics are also needed.

Missing Animal Search

Missing animal search (MAS) dogs are actually almost the same as tracking and trailing dogs, but with a specialty in locating missing animals instead of humans. 

They are taught trailing and air scenting techniques to locate and find missing, trapped, injured or even deceased animals or remains.

Detection dog

Detection dogs or sniffer dogs are used in many locations. I often see them at airports. Many times it is a German Shepherd used as a detection dog.

These dogs are trained to detect harmful or illegal objects. This can be explosives, drugs, money, wildlife scat, and blood. 

Human Remains Detection

These dogs can off-lead search for human remains, which is why under insiders they are also known as cadaver dogs.  They can also work on-lead to search for clues on a crime scene. 

The quality of training will determine the capabilities of the dog. Again often you will see German Shepherds used because of that good nose they have. The scent detection is very different from tracking dogs. HRD dogs can 

German Shepherd trained as HRD dogs can with that fantastic nose scent deceased bodies even when they are buried, decomposed or submerged they can even scent parts of a human body including blood, hair or bones. 

Some Notable Achievement The German Shepherd Breed Has Accomplished In The Force

  • Jet of Iada Jet was a German Shepherd pedigree dog. Jet received the Dickin Medal and RSPCA’s medallion of Valor for his brave efforts in rescuing 150 people trapped under a blitzed building.
  • Crumstone Irma: was a German Shepherd who served with the Civil Defense Services of London during World War 2. She assisted in the rescue of 191 people trapped under destroyed buildings. She had a great ability to tell if buried victims were dead or alive. Like Jet of Iada, she received the Dickings Medal in 1945. 
  • Thorn: Was noted by the People’s Dispensary of sick animals for the Dickin medal. He was awarded the medal in 1945 for his bravery and service during World War 2.
  • Rex: Was noted just like Thorn for the same reasons by the People’s Dispensary. In April 1945 he received the Dickin medal.

    Rex performed “outstanding good work” finding casualties “in burning buildings.” Without fear, he would search in harsh environments for people that were trapped in smoldering buildings.
  • Appollo: was a German Shepherd search and rescue dog born in 1992. He became part of New York Police Departments K-9 unit that served during the September 11 attack. He was the first SAR dog on the site.

    Appollo received the Dickin medal on behalf of all the dogs that assisted in rescue operations on the WTC site and pentagon site after the attacks.

Author: Erwin Borgers

Hi, I’m Erwin. I grew up with two cats, but I always wanted to have a dog. Since my wife and I lived together, we have Mayla. She is a very sweet King Charles Spaniel. Together we spend countless of hours in the forest near our home. We love to walk together and now I want to share what I learned about walking dogs and what I learned about dog gear with you.